How do humans tell stories about nature? How do scientists use data to tell stories?
In Storytellers of the Land, fifth graders read and wrote origin stories about animals and nature and teamed up with local conservation organizations to analyze thousands of trail camera photos of local wildlife.
In collaboration with a local conservancy and river park, students were able to serve as citizen scientists as they helped land managers and conservation biologists identify and catalog local wildlife through camera trap photo analysis. With the help of rangers and biologists, students were taught field techniques for animal tracking and how data is used to make decisions about land use and animal conservation.
At the same time, students were exploring Pourquoi stories or origin stories that many cultures throughout history have used to explain why things are the way they are, such as “Why the Snake Has No Legs,” or “How the Raccoon Got its Mask.”
To launch the project, fifth graders visited the river park and met the rangers who would be their partners. They learned how to track animals in the field and how data from cameras helps in this process. The rangers explained why it was important to know how the animals were behaving in the park, and how they were being impacted by human activity. They also explored technology used by rangers and scientists, such as GPS markers and the application iNaturalist to identify plants and animals.
Want to see the whole project? Click the button to download the pages from the book that discuss this project!
After analyzing thousands of photos from within the river park, students generated an inquiry question, such as “Which animals are most active at night?” or “When are coyotes active versus rabbits?” They visited with the rangers again to learn which questions would be helpful for them to answer. Their question would be used to inform the community about the patterns and behaviors of animals. It had to be relevant and also discoverable from the data.
Once they had honed in on their research questions, students re-analyzed the data and used mathematical relationships and graphical representations to illustrate their findings. Direct instruction in the use of spreadsheets, percentages, and graphs, as well as models and lots of feedback helped to support the process of representing mathematical conclusions visually.
Meanwhile, students were also writing, editing, and illustrating a book of their own Pourqoi stories specific to San Diego, ranging from “Why the Leopard Shark is Quiet and Shy,” to “How the California Chipmunk Got Its Stripes,” to “Why California Has Fires.”
Students held an exhibition at school, with staff, volunteers, and board members from the river park and conservancy as well as family members attending. Each team displayed their research on posters and also gave oral presentations. Their Pourquoi stories and books were displayed. Students also created a process display illustrating their learning process and the various stages of their research.